Although humans can produce the mineral choline in small amounts, they must also consume some in the diet to maintain good health, according to the Linus Pauling Institute, or LPI, at Oregon State University. Most choline in the body is located in fat molecules called phospholipids, and the most common phospholipid is phosphatidyl choline. Supplements are available containing phosphatidyl choline, also known as lecithin.
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Phospholipids are essential parts of cell membranes, and phosphatidyl choline is vital for cell membrane integrity, explains the LPI. Phosphatidyl choline is a component of very low-density lipoproteins that carry fat and cholesterol from the liver to other areas of the body that need them. Choline, as synthesized from phosphatidyl choline, is essential for the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, involved in memory as well as the nervous system and muscle function.
Most people who eat a wide variety of foods do not have a phosphatidyl choline deficiency, according to Dr. Ray Sahelian, who specializes in natural supplements. You can easily consume 3 to 6 g of this substance per day by eating meat, eggs and soy. Smaller amounts occur in vegetables, fruits and grains.
People take phosphatidyl choline supplements for various reasons, explains Sahelian, such as enhancing liver and brain function and maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. Because phosphatidyl choline transports cholesterol and fats from the liver, it prevents fat buildup in the liver, as noted by the LPI. In addition, a study published by Margreet R. Olthof and colleagues in the July 2005 issue of the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" found that supplementing with phosphatidyl choline decreased plasma total homocysteine concentrations. High homocysteine concentration is a potential risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Phosphatidyl choline levels in brain cells decrease with age and may contribute to memory loss. Some people take phosphatidyl choline to enhance memory and cognition, but research does not support this use, according to Sahelian. Research also does not support using phosphatidyl choline for treating dementia. A review of studies by J.P. Higgins and L. Flicker published in the "Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews" in 2000 examined 12 clinical trials of lecithin for patients with dementia due to Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and subjective memory problems. One significant result was found in patients with subjective memory problems, but otherwise no benefits were found.
Phosphatidyl choline supplements are available in capsules, granules and liquid. Pure phosphatidyl choline supplements are labeled as such, while supplements labeled as lecithin may include 20 to 90 percent phosphatidyl choline along with other lipids, according to the LPI. The amount may depend on the source, such as egg yolk or soy, or the process used to extract the lecithin.